U.S. military investigating whether soldiers raped Iraqi & killed her family

Friday, June 30, 2006 at 06:15 PM

This is a sad, sad story for Americans, for Iraqis, and for human beings in general.  The U.S. military command in Iraq has begun formally investigating whether five American soldiers raped an Iraqi woman then killed her and her family to keep the crime concealed.

The alleged rape and killings took place in March.  But--and adding to the tragedy--the event may have played some role in the recent Iraqi kidnapping and torture of two soldiers from that same U.S. military unit, whose bodies were found June 19.  According to a report in Forbes on the case,

[A U.S.] official said the mutilation of the slain soldiers stirred feelings of guilt and led at least one member of the platoon to reveal the rape-slaying on June 22.

According to the senior Army official, the alleged incident was first revealed by a soldier during a routine counseling-type session. The official said that soldier did not witness the incident but heard about it.

A second soldier, who also was not involved, said he overhead soldiers conspiring to commit the crimes and then later saw bloodstains on their clothes, the official said.

Before the soldier disclosed the alleged assault, senior officers had been aware of the family's death but believed it was a result of sectarian violence, the official said.
The allegations of rape could generate a particularly strong backlash in Iraq, a conservative, strongly religious society in which many women will not even shake hands with men who are not close relatives.

The case is among the most serious against U.S. soldiers allegedly involved in the deaths of Iraqi civilians.

Yet despite Abu Ghraib, despite the documented cases of many Iraqi civilians killed at traffic checkpoints, despite the incredible amount of Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence and the inoperability of basic utilities systems, and now despite this investigation of a deliberate rape and multiple killings--allegedly including an infant--some military types continue to insist, as many in President Bush's circle insist, that the real problem in Iraq is that negative media coverage may spoil the public's appetite for this occupation.

For example, a Colonel Jeffrey Snow, who commands a brigade in Baghdad, made just such a claim today.

"My personal opinion is that the only way we will lose this war is if we pull out prematurely," said Colonel Jeffrey Snow, a brigade commander in Baghdad.

"I would hope we get the time and support we need to finish this mission," he said in a video conference from Iraq.

Snow, whose own troops have come under stepped-up insurgent attacks this month, criticized media coverage as too focused on insurgent roadside bombings, kidnappings and assassinations.

"Our soldiers may be in the crosshairs every day, but it is the American voter who is a real target, and it is the media that carries the message back each day across the airwaves," he said.

"So when the news is not balanced and it's always bad, that clearly leads to negative perceptions back home," he said.

So once again it is not the occurrence of the "bad news" events that is the problem, it is the reporting of them. And the theory seems to assume that news falls solely into the categories of "good" and "bad," with the importance of an event being irrelevant.  Finished rebuilding a school? One "good."  Killed a family of civilians? One "bad."

This is not how it works, of course.  Some news is minor, even trivial.  Some news is major, even crucial.  The nature of the news, and its likely effect on the overall outcome, determine whether it is major or minor, and that characteristic is far more important than whether the news is good or bad.  Unfortunately for all of us, most of the "major" news in Iraq has been bad for some time.

How do you think the Iraqis themselves will view this instance of deliberate rape and murder, if the investigation finds that it occurred as reported?  A minor thing offset by a new blackboard at the elementary school, or a blood insult calling for revenge on the perpetrators?  Do you think that such an event would raise or lower the chances of even more violence between the U.S. soldiers and Iraqis?

Our leaders, and the right wing media that supports them, either can't or won't look at any of this from the Iraqi point of view, which is unfortunately, the view that is likely to determine the outcome in Iraq.  Maybe doing that smacks too much of that "relativism" they read so deeply.  Or maybe they've internalized the idea that attempts to understand are signs of weakness.

It's a shame, because all they need to do is look at these events and imagine the reversal of roles: Iraqi troops deliberately raping an American civilian, then killing the vitim and her entire family.  That wouldn't stir up violent opposition to the Iraqis, would it?

If things continue to go like this, we may "occupy" ourselves right out of time to get this right.